Sophie Kneeshaw – winner of our One Tech World competition – and a graduate of Code First Girls tells Johanna Hamilton about her journey from performing arts teacher to Associate Developer.

Tell me about your life before Code First Girls?

In 2009 I became a teacher of music and eventually progressed into drama teaching and then Head of Performing Arts. There was lots that I enjoyed about teaching and particularly being in the classroom itself, but there were also lots of issues with workload and work life balance. In short, I was ready for a new challenge.

What was the catalyst for change?

I would say lockdown had quite a big effect. It opened us up more to technology in terms of how we use it day-to-day, especially with the different types of teaching software. So I started to think about taking a coding course and in February 2022, I signed up to a Code First Skills Course for Python and apps that lasted eight weeks

I very quickly started enjoying what I was doing. We had a project within each group, working with other people and you start to create something that you’re like, “ohh this is something tangible”. I started to kind of get that buzz – so when I saw the CFGDegree course, I signed up again. This time I had to get sponsorship to complete the course, which I didn’t have. However, Code First Girls could see I had an aptitude for coding and stepped in to sponsor my place. It was 13 weeks of fast paced, fast tracked learning.

Were you working full time as a teacher as well as studying?

I was, but then in April 2022 I decided to take a career break to focus then on my studies for the CFG Full Stack Degree. I was able to truly throw myself into my studies. This was one of the best decisions that I ever made.

As I had only written my first line of code in February 2022, when I started the CFGDegree in May 2022, I felt like I was just a baby to the tech industry. By taking a career break, I could invest time into learning, as I felt like I was constantly behind. However, I soon learned in my degree cohort, there were people who already had a computer science degree who were doing the course for skills as their degree was mainly about theory. This both surprised and reassured me, as it was showcasing that having a computer science degree didn’t provide all the skills required to enter the tech industry.

Did you always know what you wanted to do?

I didn’t really have a plan, but I did have a direction of travel. When I finished the boot camp in August 2022, I joined the Cajigo mentoring programme which supports 100 women trying to break into the tech industry.

As I’d also done quite well in the CFGDegree, CFG then sponsored me for a place on their Master’s course where I then learned about mobile app development – that was going on alongside the mentoring. But then, I needed to start applying for jobs – but I had a crisis of confidence worrying that I didn’t know enough to get a job as a developer.

But there comes a time when you just have to go for it?

There weren’t too many jobs at the level I wanted in Leeds, so in October I applied for a job at a higher level that I realistically knew I wouldn’t get at Sky. But I thought why not?

I went through the interview process, and while I didn’t get the role, they created an associate role for me to enable me to join their team and be supported in my role. The reason they took me on was they had employed teachers previously who were career changing and they said they’ve blended in so well. With me they went for the soft skills and transferable skills that I could bring. So, in November I started working with Sky at their Leeds Tech hub.

So, nine months after writing your first line of code, you’re a full time developer?

Yes. It’s one of the best decisions that I’ve made. I absolutely loved my teaching career, but knew it was coming to an end. And that moving into this, has been a whirlwind.

The team that I’m in is quite new too. We’ve all come from different backgrounds. One of my colleagues also went to boot camp, another is completely self-taught; my lead developer, my manager, he joined Sky Straight out of GCSEs through the apprenticeship and worked his way up. In my team, no one actually has a computer science degree that we just all come in with our own different skills and experience – and we make an amazing team!

So, what’s next for the new Associate Developer at Sky?

I’m working at Sky during the day, but I am also now teaching for Code First Girls in the evening – which has given me three massive benefits. One, I’m kind of giving back to a community that helped bring me into tech and using my teaching skills. Two, I’m inspiring other people to go into tech. And three, it’s helping me to consolidate what I’ve learned.

I’m a big believer in community in terms of helping people and being open. You know that there will be good days and bad days, but it’s about helping each other out through everything.

Anna Brailsford of Code First Girls said: “As the largest provider of free coding courses in the UK, we’re on a mission to encourage more women to code by supporting their employability through boosting their skills and linking them with jobs in the industry. With 80% of our community reporting that they were never taught computer skills or encouraged into a career in tech at school, we’re helping to rectify this by giving women the opportunity to career switch at a later stage through our free courses – including the CFGDegree.

“So far, we’ve taught more than 100,000 women to code through education that is virtual, accessible, and flexible – and we don’t intend to stop there. By working closely with more than 100 businesses, we will continue to help women break into the industry and link them with the roles and companies they want”.